Last night I dressed in my favorite black jeans topped by a green silk shirt and my knee-length festive beaded cardigan, and walked downtown to treat myself to dinner. Today is my birthday, but my favorite Salida restaurant, Laughing Ladies, is closed on Tuesdays, so I celebrated early.
I’m in a celebrating mood. For one thing, it’s a minor miracle that I’m here at all. I’m 56 years old, an age no one would have bet on me reaching three decades ago when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease then considered fatal.
For another, I’m managing to keep my balance and sense of humor in the Herculean task of getting my dad organized and ready for his move to western Washington at the end of the month. It helps that Dad is good-natured, though I am coming to believe that using “organized” in the same sentence as my very bright but remarkably scattered 84-year-old dad may be an oxymoron.
I’ve made two multi-day trips to Denver so far, and will go one more time next week when the movers come to load Dad’s belongings. It’s a beautiful drive over the mountains, especially at this time of year, but it takes the better part of three hours each way; after each trip, I’m groggy for the next couple of days. Still, back in late August when he decided to make this move, I resolved that if I was going to help him, I’d do it with grace and, more so, would enjoy the time. And I have, by and large. I’m proud of that.
Another reason to feel celebratory is that I’m finally emerging from the fatigue of a string of hard care-giving years, beginning in 2004 with my father-in-law’s death from lung disease.
For the last few months of his dad’s life, Richard and I made the thousand-mile round-trip commute once a month to help with his dad’s hospice care, trips that brought the gift of healing their relationship, strained for decades. Leaving that baggage behind surely helped us the next year when then-26-year-old Molly was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which she survived thanks to surgery removing both her thyroid and the extensive tumor, followed by treatment with radiation that made her so poisonous she had to be isolated.
Then came a hip replacement for my mom, followed by moving my folks to a new apartment (twice!). 2008 was the year of Richard’s bladder carcinoma, from which he recovered fully, but which motivated us to re-evaluate our lives.
Of course, just a year later Richard was visited by legions of avian messengers, those eerily beautiful bird hallucinations warning of something growing in his brain, and we began our journey–holding hands, as always–with brain cancer.
And then last year. My mother died peacefully at home in early February; Richard in late November, also at home. (I am profoundly grateful to Denver Visiting Nurse’s Hospice, the Veteran’s Administration, and to Angel of Shavano Hospice for caring for all of us.)
As I sat at Laughing Ladies last night, I thought about my birthday dinner a year ago, celebrated with Richard and Monterey friends Laura and Sarah Arnow at Albalonetti’s overlooking California’s Monterey Bay, a dinner made possible by a gift from Nancy and Dave Mayer.
This first solo birthday is milestone on my new path–not the path I would have chosen, but it’s exciting all the same. I’m re-learning who I am at age 56, and what’s most important to me, as I pick my way along.
Tonight is also the September new moon, a celestial beginning. I looked up from writing to see its slender and brilliant crescent shimmering above the peaks in the last glow of sunset.
That’s the moon Richard and I shared for almost 29 years. Seeing it tonight feels like a blessing, its light illuminating my new path. I am fortunate indeed.